by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.
Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness
There is no single solution to decrease the prevalence of violence in our nation's schools, universities, houses of worship, movie theaters, shopping malls, workplaces, and in our communities.
However, a multimodal approach incorporating the following ten strategies would reduce the frequency of violent acts:
1. Prevention must be a priority. People should learn about the indicators of potential violence and instructed with whom to share information. In nearly every violent attack, there was some form of “leakage”—someone knew something to suggest the realization of violence.
2. Law enforcement agencies should encourage people to report concerns about potential violent acts and take every report seriously. Investigators should do their due diligence and always err on the side of caution to avert a tragedy. The single most significant predictor of violent behavior is past violent behavior.
3. Mental health facilities and programs must be expanded to help people who present a danger to themselves and others. While a relatively small percentage of individuals with mental health problems are violent, these individuals could benefit from evidence-based t strategies and potentially protect others from violent acts.
4. Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, and suicide is the leading cause of injury death of Americans—surpassing automobile accidents. There is a strong correlation between suicide and homicide, as evidenced by the fact that most perpetrators of violent acts take their own lives or are killed while engaging in acts of violence. As noted previously (3), mental health programs must be developed and implemented to address anger and aggressivity.
5. As our world becomes increasingly technological, we must be aware of the fundamental breakdown in interpersonal face-to-face communication. Efforts should be made to unite people, absent technology, and engage interpersonally. For example, children could be taught social skills, empathy, and assertiveness.
6. The media must stop showing the faces and reporting the names of alleged perpetrators. Our increasingly technological world, including internet news sites, social media, streaming video, and television, provides an indelible "stage" upon which disturbed individuals perform. Focusing inordinate attention on perpetrators and their actions increases the frequency of violent threats and acts. We must turn off the spotlight and stop glorifying and reinforcing maleficent conduct.
7. We must utilize our greatest resources to protect “soft targets,” such as our nation’s schools and universities. Consideration must be given to employing retired law enforcement personnel and our veterans who have demonstrated exemplary performance and are well-trained and experienced in firearms. A calculation could be developed for various venues, such as one armed “protector” per every specific number of people in a school.
8. We must rely on something other than arming our teachers and school personnel. Their knowledge, education, skill, experience, and training are in teaching, mentoring, and supporting our children. Educators have overwhelming responsibilities and should not be placed in situations where they are called upon to draw a weapon and make a choice to use deadly force.
9. While it is virtually impossible to eliminate every assault rifle, there are certainly reasonable and responsible mechanisms that could be put into place to prevent these weapons from getting into the hands of the wrong people. This could be implemented by considering variables such as age to purchase and own and enhanced background checks, including a waiting/processing period.
10. There is considerable focus today on wellness: preventing illness, keeping people healthy, and improving the quality of life. Greater attention must be given to a key component of wellness that is often overlooked: Emotional wellness, which is the awareness, understanding, and acceptance of our feelings and our ability to manage effectively through challenges and change. It’s time to foster Emotional Wellness in America!